Sports leagues worldwide are contemplating how they will return to action after the coronavirus pandemic peaks. Those plans will likely start without fans in attendance but, eventually, teams will need the revenue and atmosphere that comes with live audiences if they want to return to anything resembling business as usual. A new Seton Hall Sports Poll, however, suggests that most fans won’t be comfortable returning until they’re absolutely certain it’s safe to do so.

Seton Hall Sports Poll
A Seton Hall Sports Poll found that fans aren’t comfortable returning to stadiums without a COVID-19 vaccine. (Image: Stan Grossfeld/Boston Globe)

According to a survey released by Seton Hall University’s Stillman School of Business on Thursday, 72% of Americans say they won’t attend live sporting events without an available COVID-19 vaccine.

Americans Aren’t Confident About Sports Returning in 2020

Those who identified as sports fans were a little more willing to come out to the ballpark, but not by much. Sixty-one percent of fans said they won’t go to stadiums without an available vaccine.

With a vaccine unlikely to be developed and distributed before sometime in 2021, that leaves open the possibility that fans won’t be coming back to games until at least next year. Perhaps that’s why 74% of respondents said they believe it’s possible, likely, or very likely that sporting events won’t return to America in 2020.

“This virus has the attention and respect of the nation,” Rick Gentile, director of the Seton Hall Sports Poll, said in a press release. “Those who identify as sports fans, at all levels of interest, line up closely with the general population in regard to their own safety and that of the players.”

A plurality of those surveyed – 40% – said that sports shouldn’t return in 2020. Only 12% believe sports should go back to normal with full audiences; however, 23% think that restricted attendance policies are appropriate, with another 21% saying games should go forward without fans.

Sports Poll Finds Support for Empty Stadium Games

If there’s one bright spot for leagues in the poll, it may be that fans say they will still watch games played in empty stadiums. Seventy-six percent of Americans said they would have the same interest as usual in sports played without fans, with only 16% saying they would be less interested.

The Seton Hall Sports Poll surveyed 762 Americans and has a margin of error of +/- 3.6%.

Of the major American sports leagues, the NFL is best positioned to return this year, since its first regular-season games aren’t scheduled to begin until September. President Donald Trump has even said that he believes the league should be able to start on time, though NFL medical personnel have said that testing would have to be faster and more accessible for that to be a reality.

Fans aren’t so sure that should happen, either. The Seton Hall poll found that 70% of Americans believe that the NFL shouldn’t start in the fall if social distancing measures are still in place. Another 20% believe that while the league should start, players should have the option not to play.

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